Matters of the Heart I: A Romantic Request (The Keep)ou rise from the book you have been poring over the last few hours and step to the window. The day outside is beautiful, the sun sparkling on what snow hasn't thawed yet. You can see the lake off in the distance, ice clinging to life along its shores. The grass is already recovering from winter, slowly turning green again under the first warm rays of the sun. You take your cloak off of its accustomed hook and shrug it on, pulling it tight around yourself.
You pass the open gates of The Keep and set off in the direction of the stream; a group of students already there greets you politely and you smile and nod in return. One of the magi bends to pick up an egg, water dripping down his hands. The student brushes past you as he leaves, a smile lighting his face.
Picking a dry spot high on a hill, you sit, tilting your face to the sun. The ground around The Keep are busy with people seeking fresh air on this first warm day after the winter. Hatchlings are playing among them, infected by the high spirit. One small kitsune grabs and tugs at your cloak excitedly, until you shoo it away gently.
The view is superb from your seat, allowing you to see all the way to the mountains in the north east. They appear blue from this far away, and you can just make out ice caps running along the tops of the peaks. Your attention is drawn to the well worn path leading there, and you lean forward when you notice something odd. Among the carts of goods delivered to The Keep, goods that will replenish the stocks depleted during winter, there is also a lone rider. As he pulls up alongside a group of magi and leans down to speak to them, you eye his beautiful black horse. A fine steed, you judge, and probably worth quite a sum. The rider is not a poor man. One of the students points up the hill in your direction; the horseman noods and urges his mount on. You stand up as he approaches and take in the fine sable cloak, the ring bedecked fingers, the beard neatly trimmed in the latest fashion; all about him speaks of riches. The man dismounts when he reaches you, a smile easy on his lips. You take the hand he offers and exchange greetings.
“I greet you, magi,” the man says; “My name is Vasial. I hail from Synara.” Releasing his hand, you introduce yourself. “I'm sure your ride was exhausting,” you say. “Perhaps you would like to continue to The Keep and take a short rest?” The man shakes his head. “Please, let us get straight to business. This matter is of great importance to me.” Curious now, you inquire: “And what is it you would ask?” Vasial brushes back a brown lock of hair, clearly anxious. “I wish to ask for my beloved's hand in marriage. It would be only appropriate to present her with a suitable gift for the occasion. I wish for a gem like no other, to be set into a ring made specially for her.” You smile at this and remark: “I am glad for you, but I ask: what is my part in this?” Vasial grins. “I need the gem. It is said that the Caves of Nareau contain stones the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else. However, those caves contain dangers only the magi dare to brave. Would you undertake this quest, seeking out a stone for me? I promise to reward you greatly for this favor!”
Matters of the Heart I: The Gem (Caves of Nareau)After several days of travel, you have reached the Alasre Mountains. The ascent is difficult, as the slopes are still covered in snow and ice. Still, you persevere, and soon you have reached one of the large openings that lead down into the Caves of Nareau. You unpack a lamp from your equipment and light it. Entering the dark cave, you begin to walk down the bare corridor, your boots leaving wet prints behind you.
As you make your way through the labyrinth of caves and corridors, you use a piece of chalk to mark your way. You are making your way downwards, assuming that the gem you are seeking will be found deep down, in the realm of the crystalwings. The deeper you go, the warmer it grows, and soon you shrug out of your thick winter cloak and put it into your backpack.
You have long lost track of time when you reach a large, dome-like cavern. You let the light of your lamp fall inside and see the walls glimmer and twinkle in a multitude of colors. You have reached what legend calls a rainbow cavern, one of the places where Father Earth put the gems the forgotten race was turned into.
Walking up to one red stone that has caught your eye, you start prying the stone from the wall. You pause for a moment, wondering if this gem could be the soul of a person. You shake your head to clear the thought; it is only an old legend, after all, something people invented to explain the existence of the gemstones. You quickly take the stone out of the wall, then hold it up and admire it for a moment. The gems from the rainbow caverns are a marvel, larger and more beautiful than any other gem, and they almost look like a jeweler has already worked his craft on them. Carefully you wrap the stone into a soft cloth and stow it in your belt pouch.
You turn toward the opening you came from, when suddenly the sound of wings fills the chamber. A large creature descends and hovers in front of you, blocking the way to the exit. Vaguely humanoid in shape, its body is covered in glittering, gem-like protrusions, a long thick tail swishing behind it. You have seen some of the rare crystalwings in the Keep, creatures that live down here in these caves. This, however, while looking similar, seems different somehow, even though you can't put your finger on what makes you think that. The excitement at seeing one of the rare creatures up close is however quickly sobered up by the menacing aura the creature exudes.
"You have stolen from our cave," the creature says in a hissing voice. "Return the gem!" Your eyes grow wide in disbelief. Like all the creatures magi keep, crystalwings are not sentient and cannot speak; but there is no doubt that this one just did address you. You quickly gather yourself and reply: "I did not know this place belongs to anyone. But my quest demands I bring one of these gemstones back with me. What can I do to be allowed to keep it?" The crystalwing eyes you closely. "Only those we deem worthy do we suffer to carry them away. You will have to prove your worth." - "How do I prove that?" you ask, worried. "Knowledge is required of you! If you can answer my questions, I will allow you to leave!"
Matters of the Heart I: Question One (Caves of Nareau)You frown, suddenly worried that you won't be able to leave. “Alright,” you say, crossing your arms: “I am sure I know the answers to whatever your questions may be. If you will ask them, let me prove my knowledge.”
The bird leans forward, giving you a good look at its bright plumage. “The first questions will be the easiest... then they will become more difficult. What is the first magical creature the magi discovered and tamed?”
The large crystalwing spreads its wings out, clacking its beak loudly. “You have chosen incorrectly! You are no true possessor of knowledge. Leave this cavern and return only when you have become wiser!”
Matters of the Heart I: Question Two (Caves of Nareau)The great bird bends its head low, its eyes level with yours. “That is indeed the correct answer. Do not rejoice fully, though; I have yet more questions for you. Here is the second question. Which of these gems is NOT found within these caves?
“We have many of these stone here. You have answered incorrectly, and may not bring this gem to the world outside. Leave this place now! Return only if you have learned more.”
Matters of the Heart I: Question Three (Caves of Nareau)The crystalwing scratches at the rocks underneath it, clearly impressed. “This is true. We have no jade here. You appear to know much. You now will answer a third question. Perhaps you know which one of these creatures is not found in these mountains?”
“You almost made it,” says the crystalwing, blinking slowly. “But that is not true.”
Matters of the Heart I: Question Four (Caves of Nareau)“So, you have passed the third question. This last one shall not be so easy! What does a green alphyn egg most closely resemble?”
“Ha ha ha!” The bird chortles. “You almost won our little test, but sadly, you did not. Return the gem and leave this place. If you care to try again, I will be here upon your return.” With that, the crystalwing gestures towards the door with one huge wing.
“So, you have passed,” the beautiful crystalwing says, lowering his head to your height. “Your knowledge shows that you deserve this gem. Go now from these caves, knowing you wear the name magi well.” You follow the crystalwing and it leads you back outside, into warm sunlight. You turn to thank the bird and wish it farewell, but it has gone. Shrugging, you start your trip to Synara, intent on presenting Vasial with the rare gem.
Matters of the Heart I: A Romantic Request (Synara City)Entering the city of Synara, you make your way to Vasial's house, marveling at the city sights. The man's house itself is grand enough, and when you knock Vasial himself answers. A frown creases his forehead, and he inquires: "Do you not have the gem I wished for? Please, go to the caves and search for it! Return here to me when you have it in your possession."
It took you several days, but you have reached Synara City. The city is as gorgeous as always, and you find it hard to make good time on your way to Vasial's home. It seems the sun has caused everything to become twice as stunning. After several hours, you come to Vasial's home, and knock on the door, waiting for a servant to answer. To your surprise, Vasial himself answers the door, a grin lighting up his face when he sees you. “Have you managed to find the gem?” he asks, wringing his hands. “Yes,” you say, pushing back your hood; “but it certainly wasn't easy.” Drawing the gem from you pack, you unwrap it and give it to him, pleased to see his happy expression. “It is everything I wished for,” Vasial breaths, letting the sun make the gem sparkle. “I am sure she will accept my proposal. But come,” the man says, gesturing at the door, “please enter. I must pay you well for your services!” You draw inside, marveling at the beautiful home. You wait patiently as Vasial goes for your payment, wondering what it will be. When the man returns, he hands you an egg, but unlike one you have ever seen! Although flames are seemingly emanating from it, it causes you no pain; nevertheless, it is warm. “What is it?” you ask, curious. “A hellhound,” Vasial says. “A dark wizard summoned it from another world. Will it do as payment?” You nod, following him to the door. “It will do handsomely. I thank you!” “No, no,” Vasial says, opening the door: “I owe you thanks. This is but a poor thing to give you in return.”